Tuesday, October 20, 2015

A couple of marathon to my name - finally!

You are stupid and inexperienced if your first half of the race is faster than the second half.
You are untrained if you cannot run above zone 3 for a full marathon.
You are stupid if you don't plan your hydration and nutrition for a race that takes more than 3 hours.

Waiting for opportinity

I hadn't run a marathon till October 2014. But I had done one in Lalbagh garden in 2012 on my own. But generally, I don't have the motivation to go out and run such a long distance without the right atmosphere. Bangalore didn't have any such event except the oddly timed mid-night marathon, which has very unattractive course. I also don't have the time and energy to travel to other cities to do one. So, when Bengaluru Marathon (www.bengalurumarathon.in) was first announced, I jumped in immediately and I was one of the early birds to register getting free tees.

2014 Bengaluru Marathon

I set a 3 hours target for this marathon. This is a stiff target, specially considering my lack of experience. I had done only one half marathon and that too was a slow one that took 92 minutes. So, running a double distance with more or less the same pace was a big challenge. But I practiced decently well, running thrice a week, two months before the event itself, most sessions spanning about 90 minutes and covering a distance of mostly 20 km. Two months of training is a lot for me, because I train for two weeks for most other races I participate.

Surprisingly, my work schedule that usually goes easy became hectic in the run up to the event. I also registered for the first Bliss In the Hills, which is a 1200 km cycling through mountains with elevation gain of near 15,000 meters. Bliss In the Hills happened too close, just the weekend before the marathon. So, I didn't have any room for recovery, leave alone additional training. I did try a 10 km run in between to test if I was ready for a 42 km at that condition. I pushed for a 45 mins 10 km and that probably drained my energy more.

Anyhow, I ran carrying a bottle of gatorade. No nutrition and not enough hydration. Out of grit, I pushed myself hard and finished in 3:32:49. I felt really bad about it and I decided to run the mid night marathon. I registered, but something else came up and I couldn't run.

2015 Bengaluru Marathon

I wanted to do well this time. But again, I couldn't train. I was without the support of my father-in-laws, who used to help with my kids study and school pickup and drop. I was in a water tight schedule to balance work and family. When my in laws returned in mid of September, I had to cover up my work as well. So, no training at all. Meanwhile, I decided to ride the Bliss In the Hills again with my Cleated Warriors team-mates, specially Ganapathy, who was my companion in my first 600 km ride in 2011. I did manage to run a 5 km. Ride Nandi repeats on one holiday. Accompanied wife for 17 km to practice for her first running event, half marathon in the same event. I also got to ride to Basavanabetta on Bakrid holiday. So, basically I was relying on my Bliss In the Hills ride as my training for the marathon. This ride is also a trial ride for something big coming on my way in the near future. Anyway, I finished the ride strong taking all the time I was given! I had two weeks gap this time before the marathon. So, I ran another 5 km and then another 10 km between - both in office treadmill.

Target 3:10

I was ill prepared. But I set myself a target of 3:10, but was going to accept even a 3:15 under the circumstance. My plan was to do 4:30 a km pace all throughout. I mixed three sachets of enerzals of 50g each in a bottle and mixed water just to make it liquid. Plan was to sip it and drink water from the aid station. It was working well. I also got to run with a bunch of around 6 runners who were running at my pace till the half way mark. Towards the U turn, it was up slope. A couple of them went ahead of me and the rest went behind me. I was still doing good but I knew that my energy was going to drop as I didn't have any nutrition. I didn't even bother to see what was there in the aid stations, but I think, there was no food until towards the last 10 km. Or did I not look carefully? Anyway, I continued. My bottle was empty at around 28 km mark. I relied on the aid stations for my 3:10 target. The target was still in sight though.

The mad crowd of half marathon

Half marathon was flagged off 65 minutes after us. So, at my pace, I was going to catch scores of them as they progress their second half. There was hardly any space for me to run straight. I still managed through. Then came the biggest problem. Each aid station was heavily crowded and it was almost impossible to grab a glass of water without stopping for a considerable time. At one station, I grabbed two bananas and I felt much better in energy level. I gulped some plain water in another station. Still, it was way below the required amount. I was running low now, with very low pulse rate, trying to simulate a higher heart rate. Hands and legs felt the lack of blood flow - a kind of numbness for the lack of a term in my dictionary. I started walking a few meters every 500 m in the last 4 km. The target was then revised to 3:16, then to 3:17 then to 3:18 and finally to 3:20. Finally I saw the last 500m sign post and I pushed.

A 3:20:21 finish. I was hoping for a prize, even if a 5th one in my age category of 35-40. When the result came out, I was 6th, two minute behind the 5th person. To my surprise, age category of 30-35 had lesser competition compared to 35-40. The older category of 40-45 was even tougher than 35-40. That is what mid-life crisis does to men! They are crazy and they are tough (LOL).

I will still do a sub-3 hour marathon sometime in the future, hopefully in the 2017 event as I plan to skip the 2016 one. A target in mind will at least keep me motivated to go back to the event at least. All I need is a two months training and some light nutrition on the course.

Keep running!

A shot at locally tailored iron man triathlon

What: A locally tailored ironman equivalent triathlon event (3.8 km swimming, 190 km cycling and 42.2 km running), organized by Chennai Trekking Club.

When: 15th December 2013

Where: Chennai

Official Finishers

Deepak did bike and run, but had to skip swimming. He continued mainly to give me companion.
I always keep looking for challenges as and when it happens around and when the fees are not exorbitant. I don't mind paying a bit higher fee if I can save the travel time and cost.

So, when CTC conducted their first equivalent of half ironman in Nagala in November 2012, I immediately registered and convinced Peter that I wouldn't drown even if I had to spend a whole day in water! I had done a half marathon by then (Kaveri Trail Marathon 2011) besides two 25 km Bangalore Ultra (2010 and 2011). I had also done a 1000 km brevet by then (June 2012). Yet, Peter wanted to see my swimming in one of the swimming pool (Velachari?) a few weeks before the event. But I was too busy, but managed to convince Peter. I participated and completed with a lot of goof ups in nutrition and hydration in an apparently one of the hottest climate I had ridden a bike and slush and bad roads. But I managed (relieved).

Then comes the announcement of the ironman equivalent announced for Dec 2013. Peter was kind enough to accept my registration without much convincing this time. By this time, I had also done a 100 km running on trail (Bangalore Ultra 2012, 5 days after the Nagala half iron triathlon). I also convinced my 1000 km riding partner and Cleated Warriors team-mate and close friend Deepak.

I looked for companion for the drive to Chennai. Darshan and Yatheesh were already planning to drive in XUV500 and they were kind enough to accomodate me and Deepak with a rear bike rack to be installed. Darshan did all the driving. They were supposed to do half iron distance.

Darshan also managed to get accommodation in IIT Chennai guest house through his father-in-law. What a wonderful gentleman Darshan! We reached a bit late there, but we all managed to catch some sleep while I took breaks to eat a couple of bananas every now and then. We reached the starting venue on time.


People will laugh at me if I tell them that I know swimming. What I know is basically to float. Well, a little better than that because I had swum in river currents all my childhood. But I typically keep my head up, splash a lot of water, don't rotate body, legs and lower trunk sink below. In short, it is a lot of drag. So, my ability to swim near 4 km is just grit. Thankfully, water was not sea water and I didn't mind drinking it once in a while during the struggle. There was some confusion on the distance and number of laps. Sunil Menon who was a semi-pro in triathlon measured the distance and that saved me from an extra 300 m or so.

I came out of the swimming in about 2h30m with totally lost balance (due to too much head rotation). My friend Deepak couldn't swim the distance and had to stop in the start itself. But he was willing to do the biking and running parts to give me companion. So, he waited for me and helped me in getting ready for the bike leg. There was a long delay in the transition, more than half an hour, as I tried to regain balance and grab some bananas. I was low on hydration and nutrition due to the poor swimming technique.


I wanted to try out cleats in this event. So, I installed cleats. I also borrowed an aerobar from Suma, a Cleated Warrior team-mate, who was already half ironman finisher a couple of years ago. In the first couple of km, I had a cleated fall! I couldn't get up for almost a minute. Then, I also realized that the aerobars were too close to each other for my comfort. So, I ended up not using at all. I made it a point to drink a little extra gatorade to recover from the dehydration and also ate regularly at the aid stations. I sensed some cramps in my calves. The biking look was such that half of the loop had open headwind and the other half which is supposed to be tailwind was not so open road and thus we couldn't get much of the tailwind. In the headwind section, all I did was to hide behind the broad body frame of Deepak. It was hot and humid even in December - you know Chennai, though it was cold enough in the night. Towards the end of the biking, my body and legs recovered fully and I was all set for running. At the end of the bike leg, we lost about an hour searching for the start of the running as we headed in a wrong direction. A lot of phone calls and asking locals, we found the way back to start of the run.


Running is the easiest part for me. Having said that I bloated my stomach with plain water in my Nagala triathlon and I had to walk most of the distance in 2012. So, I was careful this time during the bike segment itself. We took sweet time to change clothes, pose for photos, drink line juice, eat oranges, etc. Finally Deepak and I started running. It was on a trail, uneven at many places, but superb weather, cool breeze. Kandappa Sir (https://www.facebook.com/kandappa?fref=ufi&pnref=story), who is a cycling enthusiast himself, biked along us with a flash light and carrying our water bottles in his bike. Deepak had done countless marathons (around 35 of them if I remember correctly) and I hadn't done one. But I had done a 100 km in 2012. So, both of us were confident. Our aim was to do an easy 10 kmph pace. But we ended up doing almost 12 kmph in the first hour and we cautioned ourselves to conserve. We took small breaks for every loop of 6 km. We covered the next 10 km too in an hour. Soon, Deepak started feeling something not right in his stomach. It was not side stitch. It was not exactly pain. It was not bloating. He tried to explain, but not something he had experienced in his long list of running marathons. We slowed down every now and then but avoided walks. Soon, we started walking too. We were still confident of finishing within 17 hours (official ironman events cut off time) though CTC has set 19 hours for us. But we started doing more of walk than jog. Time ticked fast and distance moved slowly. Deepak was feeling bad that he was slowing down me. But I was not willing to leave him, specially when I know that we could use up to 19 hours to finish. He had helped me so much in the biking besides waiting for 3 hours for me to finish swimming. So, we carried on chatting and walking while Kandappa Sir was also patiently admiring our comradeship. In the last 300 m or so, I wanted to sprint off and do a dramatic finish and the shutter bugs missed me in the dark as I approached them too fast (LOL). I took somewhere 18 hours from the time I entered water. Kandappa Sir was relieved from duty after almost 6 hours. Thank you sir. We will never forget your patience and support.

We called up Darshan to pick us up while we chatted and cheered others who were coming in later. After some freshen up and some sleep, we packed the bikes and bags and Darshan and Yatheesh did most of the driving. Thank you guys.

Thank you CTC, the most energetic, volunteer driven organization of any kind of sports. I have never seen such a strong organization.

Note: I was actually not planning to write a blog until I do a proper ironman event. But it is unlikely to happen and so I decided to pen the only one that is the closest I have done.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Time Trial Bike Setup - Basic and Easy One

Time Trial is all about being aerodynamic. You can read elsewhere on drag co-efficient and drag resistance and why it is the single most important factor in anything in a stream of air or water. Rolling resistance is just too small a factor at higher speed.

You can also read elsewhere why we need to maintain various body angles - at knee, at hip flexor, at shoulder and elbows - to be effective and comfortable.

Here, my attempt is to come up with a quick TT bike setup where we can start as a base. This setup does not require any equipment or second person. All we need is a set of allen keys and a linear scale.

Crank Arm Length

It must be noted that having longer crank arm is detrimental to the aerodynamic position as it would force the seat to be lower to be able to reach the bottom stroke and at the same time, the knee would need to bend further at the upper stroke causing very close angle between thigh and abdomen (hip extension angle) when trying to be in aerodynamic position. Even if not for the hip extension angle, such as in a relaxed upright position, the knee flex would not be very powerful if the bend angle is very narrow. Cadence will also drop leading to inefficiency and lesser wattage. Here is a table with recommended crank arm lengths : http://bikedynamics.co.uk/FitGuidecranks.htm. In my case, I'm 165 cm tall and my correct crank arm would be 165mm.

Here is my own formula after analyzing the given figures by experts. The desired knee angle at any stroke position should range between 66 degree (can vary widely between individuals) and 154 degree (mostly consistent to everyone). To be exactly at these angles, the crank length must be within:
   Crank Length = GTL * [cos {(180 - 154) / 2} - cos{(180 - 66) / 2}] / 2
                          = GTL * (0.9744 - 0.5446) / 2
                          = GTL * 0.215
In other words, 21.5% of the GTL. Wait, I haven't told what is GTL. When I wrote this article as arm chair theory, I thought that the length from saddle top to bottom stroke pedal, when knee is fully extended, can be inseam length plus shoe sole plus thickness of the pedal. I was wrong about this. Many sites talk about greater trochanter as more relevant length when it comes to saddle height. Without going too much into the technical details, I coin GTL (not necessarily Greater Trochanter Length, because I don't want to risk an error) as the maximum length from saddle to pedal (usually at bottom stroke) when knee is fully extended. Note that, GTL has to be measured by wearing the shoe to be used and half of the thickness of the pedal so as to maintain the angles mentioned.

The base TT isosceles triangle

I want to give a simple and quick setup which we can do without protractor or trainer stand or a second person. All you need is a scale.

There are three important points we have to fix:
  1. Seat (top centre) height
  2. Elbow tip (the end of the elbow pad of the aerobar) and
  3. Bottom bracket.
With the three points above, we need to create a triangle. To be able to use a scale, we will define it using the three lengths of the triangle. It is roughly an isosceles triangle as the bottom bracket is equidistant from the other two points in the maximum efficiency - aerodynamically and bio-mechanically.

Distance from bottom bracket to saddle top

This distance is dictated by a knee bend angle of 150 to 155 degrees at the bottom of the stroke. If we keep 154 as the desired angle, the length from the saddle top (about the central point where we will mostly seat comfortably) to the bottom stoke pedal spindle position translates to 97.4% of GTL. 97.4% is cos(13), where 13 is half of the (180 - 154) degrees. To make things simple, we wanted to measure the saddle top from the bottom bracket. This will translate to 75.9% of  GTL, which is 97.4 minus crank arm length percent.

Distance from bottom bracket to elbow tip

This distance is same as the length between saddle top and bottom bracket.

Distance from seat top to elbow tip.

This distance depends on the upper torso length. But I promised to keep it simple. So, we will keep this 75% of the above length between bottom bracket and saddle top or simply 57% of the GTL.

There, we have got the perfect isosceles triangle. This triangle focuses on the bio-mechanic aspect. But we haven't exactly ensured that upper body is as horizontal as possible. We can rotate this triangle around the bottom bracket, keeping the lengths constant, thereby without changing the overall body posture.

UCI mandates the seat nose to be at a minimum distance of 5 cm behind the vertical line passing through the bottom bracket.

The above distances have been made keeping in mind of this offset. Otherwise, we could set the seat position and elbow tip even more forward releasing more hip extension angle for better hip flexor power. If you want, you could ignore this and keep the seat position almost above the bottom bracket which will cause the elbow rest to move forward, ignoring the exact measurements that we created above.

For now, we will stick to the above measurements. We will maintain the seat position at an angle of 11 degree from the vertical line passing through bottom bracket. This will also give slightly better power by using our natural downward force of body weight on the pedal.

Rotate the triangle such that the seat top centre is behind the bottom bracket vertical line by a distance of 19% of the length between bottom bracket and seat top or 14.4% of GTL. This positions the seat at an angle of 11 degree from the BB vertical line. Sin(11) = 19.

Where do I begin? Since the bottom bracket is fixed and we have a setback of the seat behind the bottom bracket vertical line, we fix the seat first. Then fix the handlebar height, elbow pads and aerobars. That is it.

Other things to remember is to keep the seat mostly horizontal for comfort. Keep the aerobar such that forearms are horizontal and elbow bend is within 90 degrees.

Do some minor tweaks by trial runs. Each person has their own body proportions and joint flexibility issues.

If you have a road bike, chances are that your saddle is much more reclined backward from the bottom bracket vertical line. Bringing back to 11 degree might require the seat post to flip 180 degree assuming the seat post has an offset. In my case, I had to file the saddle clamps a bit to make this possible.

Next, the handle bar might still be too high if the bike geometry was built for an endurance ride, keeping body at slightly upright position. In my case, it is an oversize bike requiring the seat post to be at it lowest possible. Hence bringing the handlebar to its lowest possible height is still not enough to make the above triangle. If you have a raised stem, flip it upside down and it will take the handlebar a notch lower. That is what I plan to do for myself. This is an unusual case because I bought a bigger frame in the first place.

More on the theory, I found this link very useful : http://bikedynamics.co.uk/FitGuideTT.htm

Disclaimer : I'm not a cyclist in the first place, let alone a time trialist. I haven't validated my theories on any cyclist. I wrote this as I was looking for an easy setup guide for amateurs who wouldn't want to visit a bike fit shop or may not have much patience to experiment. Use your own discretion to use my formula.